Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes “very, very personally to heart” the plight of Canadians imprisoned in China and she does not understand why Beijing won’t heed Ottawa’s pleas to spare them.
Mr. Trudeau leaves for China on Saturday on a trip expected to include the announcement that Canada will begin formal free-trade talks with the planet’s second-largest market and a growing military power. Beijing has been pressing for the talks, which would make Canada the first Group of Seven nation to agree to negotiate a bilateral deal with the nation.
Ms. Freeland told The Globe and Mail’s editorial board Friday the Prime Minister will raise the case of four Canadians who were arrested in China when he holds talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.
“Let me tell you, the Prime Minister takes the consular cases very, very personally to heart,” Ms. Freeland said. “I cite them at every chance. They are quite troubling to me. … It’s dreadful for the Canadians jailed in China and it’s dreadful for their families.”
The four Canadians are Huseyin Celil, a Uyghur dissident, imprisoned since 2006; Falun Gong practitioner Qian Sun, in prison since February; and British Columbia wine merchants John Chang and Allison Lu. The Richmond couple have been arrested since May, 2016, over a customized dispute between shipments of ice wine which Beijing states were undervalued for obligation purposes.
The couple’s daughter, Amy Chang, wrote to Mr. Trudeau on Monday asking him to postpone formal free-trade talks with Beijing till he obtains her parents’ release. Mr. Chang, a former enthusiastic participant in trade missions to China that has been celebrated in Canada because of his entrepreneurial ability, is in ill health, and it has lost one third of his burden while in prison. Ms. Lu was released from prison in March but was barred from leaving China.
Ms. Freeland said the four Canadians are experiencing a “dreadful” situation in Chinese jails, but she couldn’t explain why China’s rulers turn a deaf ear to Canada’s pleas to spare them.
“I’m not going to speak for anyone else’s government,” the Foreign Minister said.
Ms. Freeland acknowledged that China’s one-party dictatorship and listing of human-rights abuse difficulty many Canadians, but she said Canada still needs to expand trade with the world’s fastest-growing economy.
Though recently concluded government consultations with 600 companies, academics and civil-society groups found considerable skepticism about a free-trade deal with Beijing, Ms. Freeland said Canada can not turn back the clock since China is already the nation’s second-biggest trading partner. “That is the financial reality for Canada and for Canadians,” she said.
While the Foreign Affairs Minister was careful not to upstage the anticipated announcement of formal trade talks in Beijing next week, Ms. Freeland said she was convinced any such discussions wouldn’t overshadow crucial talks on the North American free-trade arrangement.
“Canada has the best trade negotiators on earth. It’s something we’re extremely good at,” she said. “We are extremely capable of conducting several very significant trade negotiations at exactly the exact same time.”
Canada is now in exploratory trade talks with China and Ms. Freeland said if appropriate discussions get the green light, these discussions would be complex and might take years, imagining a European deal took seven years to resolve.
Former Conservative industry minister James Moore last month cautioned against Canada opening talks with China at the moment, predicting such talks with Beijing would “conduct a very large risk” of damaging NAFTA negotiations. Mr. Moore, who’s currently an adviser to Ms. Freeland from the NAFTA talks, said he has warned her that protectionist forces could use the China talks to throw Canada as a conduit for Chinese products entering the United States.
“I think if Canada were to indicate that we were to move forward with a binding free-trade arrangement with China, that would provide President [Donald] Trump with unbelievable rhetorical ammunition against Canada,” Mr. Moore told reporters in late October. He said this could fuel a backlash “could be incredibly toxic to the Canada-U.S. relationshi”
Courtesy: The Globe And Mail